For those of us living in the snow-prone regions of the US, potholes are a fact of life (and a source of great happiness for tire retailers). City and county road crews do their best to try to stay on top of the problem by methodically tamping in some temporary cold-patch. They always miss a few spots, and inevitably there are a couple of nasty mini-sinkholes that suddenly appear that create havoc on two-lane roads at nighttime or over weekends, when the ranks of the road repair warriors are at their slimmest.

But, the best temporary solution to potholes may be as close as that old box of cornstarch you have in your kitchen. Via a story at Science Now, we learned about a savvy set of Case Western Reserve University students who have developed an ingenious solution that involves dropping reusable rugged pillows filled with oobleck (or some shear-thickening material akin to it — the students are seeking a patent and keeping the exact composition a secret) into potholes.

From the Science Now story:

The students say a little experimentation was required to get just the right formulation. “By working with different size particles, you can get different viscosities from it,” says [codesigner Curtis] Obert. What they came up with is a powdered mixture that is stored in specially designed waterproof bags, which are made of a strong fiber like Kevlar lined with silicone. To produce a ready-made pothole patch, city workers would simply add water and seal the bag.

As the students point out, these bags could also be carried in the trunks of police cruisers and other government workers cars.

According to the story, the students have already tested the pothole stuffers on Cleveland streets. Although this winter has been particularly mild, more thorough testing is clearly needed, but they found their designs would hold up to heavy traffic for a week or more.

The team’s pothole stuffer won a $9,000 first place prize in a CWRU engineering contest sponsored by Saint-Gobain.